Philomela

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, Poems by Matthew Arnold: A New Edition (1853).
2The tawny-throated!
3Hark, from that moonlit cedar what a burst!
4What triumph! hark!--what pain!
5O wanderer from a Grecian shore,
6Still, after many years, in distant lands,
7Still nourishing in thy bewilder'd brain
8That wild, unquench'd, deep-sunken, old-world pain--
9Say, will it never heal?
10And can this fragrant lawn
11With its cool trees, and night,
12And the sweet, tranquil Thames,
13And moonshine, and the dew,
14To thy rack'd heart and brain
15Afford no balm?
16Dost thou to-night behold,
17Here, through the moonlight on this English grass,
18The unfriendly palace in the Thracian wild?
19Dost thou again peruse
20With hot cheeks and sear'd eyes
21The too clear web, and thy dumb sister's shame?
22Dost thou once more assay
23Thy flight, and feel come over thee,
24Poor fugitive, the feathery change
25Once more, and once more seem to make resound
26With love and hate, triumph and agony,
27Lone Daulis, and the high Cephissian vale?
28Listen, Eugenia--
29How thick the bursts come crowding through the leaves!
30Again--thou hearest?
31Eternal passion!
32Eternal pain!

Notes

1] The poem is based on the Greek myth about Tereus, king of Daulis, his wife, Procne, and her sister, Philomela, daughters of Pandion, king of Attica. There are variants of the story (which is told by Ovid, Pausanias, Conon, Achilles Tatius, Apollodorus, and Hyginus) but the one Arnold used tells that, after a few years, Tereus grew enamoured of his wife's sister, and, to be free to marry her, cut out Procne's tongue and hid her away in the countryside, and then let it be known that she was dead. Procne made her plight public by weaving the story into a piece of tapestry. Philomela freed her sister, and together they devised a scheme to avenge her. They killed young Itylus, the son of Procne and Tereus, and served him up to Tereus as a stew during the festival of Bacchus. When Tereus asked for his son, they informed him whom he was eating. With Tereus in pursuit, they fled, and, calling on the gods for aid, they were metamorphosed into birds, Procne into a swallow and her sister into a nightingale. Arnold's version of the myth appears in Gayley's Myths and Murray's Manual of Mythology. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1853
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.217.